Adam Connor & Aaron Irizarry – Collaboration through Design Studio and Critique

Sean Carmichael

August 3rd, 2012

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Adam Connor Aaron Irizarry

Structure aids collaboration and helps achieve consensus. If everyone is participating in a structured environment, you begin with a greater level of understanding. Using a design studio as a process can get everyone on the team communicating and moving in the same direction.

Adam explains a design studio, and breaks it into three steps: sketch, present, and critique. Both Aaron and Adam believe that critique is often a misunderstood part of the process. Anyone can give feedback, or have a gut reaction, but critique is a more thoughtful and deliberate process. Critique is more analytical and needs to be measured against goals.

Critique as a tool is all about arriving at understanding. Understanding why a designer made certain color choices, or layout, for example. Within a design studio, critique is a powerful evaluation method that you repeat multiple times. Using these techniques will get the team understanding and designing together.

Adam and Aaron discuss these methods with Jared Spool in this podcast. They will be presenting one of the daylong workshops at the User Interface 17 conference in Boston, November 5-7. Learn more about the speakers and their workshops at uiconf.com.

As always, we love to hear what you’re thinking. Share your thoughts in our comments section.

Recorded: June, 2012
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Full Transcript.


Jared Spool: Welcome, everyone. We have another episode of the SpoolCast. Here today, double the pleasure, double the fun. We have double the number of guests. We have Adam Connor and Aaron Irizarry, and they are both going to be teaching a workshop at the UI17 conference here in Boston in November. The workshop is going to be so awesome. It’s going to be on studio and critique, two of the major skills that you need.

For those of you who don’t know Adam Connor and Aaron Irizarry, Adam comes from Mad*Pow, a fabulous design firm here on the East Coast that does really some amazing stuff, and he’s an experienced design director there. Aaron is experience design lead at the wonder house of HP, doing amazing things there.

Guys, thanks for joining me on this beautiful day, taking the time of doing this.

Adam Connor: Glad to be here.

Aaron Irizarry: Yeah, thanks a lot.

Jared: So when you guys talk about studio, what do you mean by that? Because some people picture this workshop of Andy Warhol, with all these paintings on the wall and a naked guy standing in the middle waiting to be sketched. But that’s not what we’re talking about here.

Adam: No, not really. For me, on my side, I have a studio. It has no naked men in it.

Jared: It’s something to get in the future. We’ll add it to your Amazon wish list.

Adam: Sweet! Didn’t know they had those on Amazon.

[laughter]

Jared: They have everything on Amazon.

Adam: I should’ve realized that. I’ve been looking for years, never looked there.

[laughter]

Adam: For me, when I think about studio, I’m thinking more of a particular structure of a collaborative activity, and the structure really follows three pretty basic steps of sketch, present, and critique. And it’s great because. It’s a little microcosm of the overall design process.

When you distill it down like this and you do it in these little time-block chunks with your team, with whoever you have on hand, it can really create a great sense of collaboration and build consensus pretty quickly around some very core elements of your design.

Jared: It’s a process. It’s not a place, really. Though, of course, you do it in a place. But it’s a process that we’re talking about here.

Aaron: Yeah. And I think, you know like Adam was saying, you get people together and you start getting a shared language, common understanding. It just provides this great environment. It’s like a process, like a tool, that really helps get things moving in the right direction.

Jared: That’s really cool. Now, the other things you guys are talking about in your full-day workshop is critique. I’ve sat in meetings where I’ve gotten criticism. My favorite was the senior executive who didn’t like the color of the design because it reminded him of a sweater his ex used to wear.

Adam: That’s awesome.

[laughter]

Adam: We’re going to be using that in future talks, Jared. We’re taking that one from you.

Jared: Go for it. But how is that different than critique?

Adam: Critique. It’s a form of analysis. Based on your little anecdote there and what we see a lot of, a lot of what gets classified as critique or what gets thrown into these review meetings, it’s just reaction. But critique is more intense and deliberate than that.

It’s a form of analysis where you’re trying to figure out what problems the designer was trying to solve and understand how they tried to solve them. From there judge, “Are they there yet, or do they have further to go? If they’re not there yet, what are the parts that aren’t working? Where are things short?

That’s really the core of it. It’s a form of analysis.

Aaron: Yeah, and I think what you were saying and sharing with us there Jared, is something that, it’s so much centered in a gut reaction. And it’s feedback.

And a lot of times we use the terms like feedback and critique so interchangeably, as if they’re the same thing. Often times, receiving feedback or input about something is a part of a critique process.

But what we often see is someone put something up on a board to share and I’m like, “Oh, that blue is horrible,” or, “Oh, why is that over there?” is a gut, an initial reaction.

It’s not been processed against goals, against what we’re trying to do when we’re building something. And so the sweater from the ex is a response, that triggered a memory, as opposed to critique is finding out, maybe, how to not remind people of their exes over a long period of time. I don’t know.

Adam: If that executive were to have actually been critiquing the process, that they should have been going through is say, “Oh, alright, I’m having a really strong reaction to that orange, but I should hold on to that. Why might Jared have used that orange?” You know, what were they trying to do by selecting that color?

And play that in his own brain and then ask you questions along the way to try to get more information, maybe even come straight out and ask you, “Why did you choose orange? What was your objective in doing that? What goals were you trying to achieve?”

Aaron: Yeah, definitely.

Jared: So, the critique is this bigger thing than just giving feedback. It’s this larger piece of the puzzle. And the connection between critique and studio, if I understand it right, the way that works is that the studio, you actually do lots of critiques as you work through different designs. Critique is a basic element that goes into the studio and you repeat that multiple times during the studio process. Is that right?

Adam: Yeah. So if you look at the general design process, it’s cyclical in nature, of course. You start by learning about a problem space. Then you synthesize what you know. You put it out into the world in some way and you evaluate it, you evaluate that solution to some extent. You learn, create a new solution, put it out. Learn. Create it.

You’re going over and over and over again. Your form of analysis could be interviews, it could be critique, it could be a usability study, it could be a pilot system. Whatever you’re putting out there, you have some way of evaluating that.

Because Design Studio’s really like this microcosm, critique is that evaluation method that you have in Design Studio. You sketch something, you present it to your teammates. It gets critiqued and then you can sketch on it a little more and you present it again and it gets critiqued and you just keep going.

Jared: Part of what we’re doing here, as I understand it, when we’re doing all this critique is it’s simultaneously trying to move a design forward. But it’s also about understanding what we’re designing. Right?

The good critique sessions I’ve come out of, I always feel like I’ve learned something about what we’re designing that’s bigger than just, “Hey, I’ve got to change this text and I’ve got to move that field over to here and I need a button here.”

It this bigger picture thing that lets everybody find out more about the underlying rationale. Do I got that right?

Aaron: I definitely think so. I think that the more you dig in, the more you start comparing and analyzing, you’re looking at the designs, you’re looking at the progress, and you’re looking at your goals. Maybe if it’s only one section of a product, maybe you’re just critiquing one small piece or component. You’re critiquing it against the goals you have for that and what the, maybe, personas, things that all the information you’ve built up as you start to build this product.

It kind of allows you to steer along the path to building that successful product. The more you go down the path and the more you analyze and adjust and revise and iterate and continue to reiterate the goals. You really start to have this greater understanding of your product and it becomes just like with anything, the more you do it and the more you use something, the more it becomes second nature.

So the more informed you become about your product and what it’s going to take to get it where it needs to go. Critique really helps that along as you do it over and over again throughout the design life cycle and the building the product over time.

Adam: A lot of that learning comes from the fact that you’re doing this with your teammates. And hopefully those teammates are cross functional in nature. So you’re starting to see different perspectives. Hopefully you’ve established some principles, you’ve set some goals for your design.

Then as you have these conversations in your critiques you’re seeing how the marketer sees those principles and those goals and how the developer sees those principles and those goals. You can start to see how everybody’s different perspective of the problem is a little different than everybody else’s. But by the end of the session they’ve come a lot closer. You’ve built in some unity there across your team of what it is exactly that we’re trying to do.

Jared: The teams that aren’t doing this today, the ones that don’t do good critique and the ones that aren’t experimenting with studio. What are the types of things that they’re running into that critique and studio would really help with? What are the problems that they’re seeing?

Aaron: Swoop and poop, that’s the first one that comes to mind for me.

Jared: Swoop and poop. So the executive seagull maneuver.

Aaron: Yes. Ugh! God! That’s something we’ve all faced. And you know, critique and studio, they’re not bulletproof solutions to avoiding that. I don’t think there is one. But what they allow you to do is to…

Well studio allows you to get those executives, get those key stakeholders involved early in terms of getting their ideas out, understanding the thinking behind design decisions.

That really takes a lot of their ammunition, to perform the swoop and poop later on, away from them. Because the reason swoop and poop comes about is you haven’t necessarily engaged those people to the extent where they’ve had a chance to contribute.

And at the end of the project they come in, they haven’t been there for everything. They haven’t seen all the iterations. They don’t know where all the thinking behind certain design decisions came from. They don’t know which avenues you tried and which ones you didn’t, so they just start tearing everything apart.

But if you can include them along the way, show them that evolution, include them in that evolution, and studio goes a long way to starting that process, you can avoid that.

Then critique, you should be doing it constantly throughout the process. By bringing in the executive, the stakeholder, to be a part of that critique, by structuring the conversation so that it’s not about just personal opinion and personal preferences and really about furthering the design and understanding design decisions, you can take a lot of that ammunition away from them.

Jared: You’re having executives come in and actually working through designs? They’re actually in the design process? Isn’t that, like, insane?

Adam: It strikes a lot of clients that way. I’ve had clients say, “Absolutely not. That’s just not going to happen. Our executive can’t commit that time.” I allude to the fact that that’s really, really sad, that the person who is going to make the end all decision on this really just can’t contribute the time to really be a part of this. So I use the guilt on some clients and sometimes it works.

Insane? It may come across that way, but I really don’t see any way around it. To me, if you’re going to be a player in a design project you have to be a player in a design project. You can’t be this guy who just gets notified here and there. If that’s what you want to be then you have to resign yourself to the fact that your opinions, your ideas just aren’t going to be included.

Aaron: Yeah, in my experience, even if I couldn’t get senior executives as high up as I could get, product managers, different individuals. The coolest thing that would start to happen after a little while was like light bulb moments. Where an executive started to understand the conversation about design, the language that’s used surrounding design.

What is, you know, if someone starts bringing up something like a responsive layout or this terminology that’s there or just the different things that, as designers, we talk about all time and it’s everyday language for us, they start to understand it. What I started to see with myself and other designers was that we started to understand how things flow from the executive side as they approach design and building products for the organization.

Especially in a larger organization like HP, the executives you may be working with will also be reporting to executives who report to executives above them. And so you understand the different needs, the different goals, and you can find creative ways to help make sure that everyone’s goals and the products are being met.

There’s so much you can do to improve the conversation around design in general. There’s none of those moments where you get three-quarters of the way through and someone says, “No, wait, why are we doing that. I thought that meant this,” when it really meant something else.

You really start to get that common language going and it’s exceptionally helpful not just to have the designers or the marketers in there, but to get as many people as possible, the variety anyway.

Jared: Yeah, the whole idea of executives reporting to executives. It’s like, “Executives all the way up.” Getting them involved though, don’t a lot of designers feel like this is the job of the designer, that executives don’t really have the skills to do this?

Adam: Well I do think a lot of designers make the mistaken assumption that they’re the ones with the good ideas. The fact is that a good idea can come from anywhere.

Aaron: Yeah.

Adam: You’re going to have to interact with these people and they may very well have good ideas so why not cast that net wide enough to give yourself a chance to catch them. Then you can work with them to guide, mold, shape, this thing which they might not be able to do on their own, but with your help they can.

Jared: Part of what I hear here is that you’re laying down some groundwork. You’re getting these folks involved. They’re hearing the thinking behind the design. In some ways it gives you a chance to talk about the problem more. A lot of folks, when they start the design process they take whatever the first solution that comes to mind is and they just run with that.

It sounds to me like this studio thing actually lets us look past that and explore other design alternatives. And by exploring other design alternatives what we’re really doing is discovering the sort of shape and size of the whole problem that we’re trying to solve. Does that sound right?

Adam: Yeah, and something I’ve experimented with in some of the studios is if I’m playing the facilitator role and people are sketching, in the first sketching iteration we try to get people to sketch as many solutions as they can. We give them a very small problem or maybe just a piece of a large problem and we see, “How many can you get done? Can you get three or four out in five minutes?”

And so as they’re doing that, I might be walking around the room and I might just throw things out. I might say, “OK. You’re Steve Jobs and you run Apple. So you’ve got all these brilliant people at your beck and call.” Or, “What if this was a geographically aware app?” Or, “How does touch play into this?”

Try to throw out these little bits and pieces here that might get people thinking differently. Yes, it is guiding in a way, but a lot of people will just lock down quickly on the first, most obvious solution. If you want to break that up, you need to stir it up a little bit.

Jared: You guys are from different types of organizations, right? Adam, you work in an agency setting, so you’re dealing with clients who are paying you to do this stuff. Whereas Aaron, you’re deep inside HP who I do hope is paying you.

[laughter]

Jared: But in some ways it’s a different relationship in terms of the power elements and what’s happening. How does this stuff play out? Is it basically the same no matter where you do it or are there differences between the in-house use of these techniques and the client/agency relationship?

Aaron: I’m imagining it’s quite a bit different, just based on the relationship you would have with a client that’s going to have its differences than your boss, sometimes. Or you know, the people within your own organization, but I think one of the things that’s great about this is something that Adam said a little while ago is that this isn’t a formatted, end all be all solution that you just apply this and then everything works. It’s contextual.

Like I was saying, you may not get this executive to be in so you have to get someone else. People may not respond to this type of thing so you may try using someone else or a different approach or different language around it. I definitely have to approach it differently at a company like HP with executives and managers and senior VP product manager people.

There’s so many different roles and everyone’s time is very limited, so you don’t always get access to the same people or you don’t always get as much time as you would like to do these things.

You have to adjust and tweak and make it work so that the organization, the people within the organization can see the value of defining and building and really setting a good path for the product by doing studio and critique and those types of exercises.

Adam: Yeah, and on the external side you’ve still got to be flexible because every team is different. One of the things, this is a “grass is always greener” thought on my part, but I always envision Aaron as having these opportunities to just continuously build these relationships because he’s working in the same office all the time.

I’m always jealous of that and I don’t know if that really happens for you, Aaron. But then, on my side, I feel like I might have a project and it might last four months or six months or even a year and we might get this process down, we might find the perfect variation that fits and everybody’s comfortable.

But then that project ends and I go off to a new client, people I’ve never met before, and it feels like I’m starting over. That can be really frustrating at times. But what I found is that with these tools I have a much better chance at creating real, decent, strong, communicative relationships with my clients. As opposed to being the black box designer who goes off in a corner and does his thing and comes back in a review meeting and collects a list of changes to this and changes to that and goes back off in the corner and curses under his breath for a while and comes back with the next iteration.

I definitely think whether you’re internal, whether you’re external, this is just a critical toolset. Knowing why these things work, not necessarily just how to do them, but knowing why they work is really powerful.

Jared: Are you scheduling these things at the outside of the project or is it like, “Hey, dudes, I’m sort of stuck. Let’s do a studio right now,” type thing? How much of this is impromptu and how much of this is part of the project schedule?

Aaron: I would say. I mean it can be either way, having good, solid, kickoff meetings where you get everyone you know…Kevin Hoffman often talks about this. Kickoff meetings are super-crucial, so this is a great way to start having a discussion about these and even trying to schedule them and introduce them to get everyone on the product team, and surrounding the product, thinking and moving in the same direction.

But I don’t see anything wrong…if you are stuck sitting down with people and having a working session and figuring some things out. Pick the problem you’re struggling with, and get some people working on it, talking about it, critiquing it.

Sometimes when they’re impromptu, you may not get as many people as you want. But I think the cool thing that I still love about Design Studio and Critique is we’re constantly refining and improving the conversation around design.

You continue to have opportunities to work on what you’re building and make it better. There’s definitely structure and things you should probably do a certain way, but then as you get into some of the areas where you are more flexible with it.

You are still having opportunities to improve how you talk about design, how you communicate with your team, how your team sees design, and how to communicate with you. I would say both are equally valuable, I think kicking off is really important and starting is really important.

It’s good to work through things when you’re stuck, as well.

Jared: How about you, Adam, when you’re doing this with your clients in the agency setting, are these things more impromptu, or do you have to put them into the schedule to make sure they happen, to make sure folks show up.

Adam: Yeah, on the impromptu side, particularly with Studio, it can be hard to do because I haven’t found a great way to do Studio with fairly remote teams, where people are distributed across multiple locations. Just my team alone, we’ve got myself, and another telecommuter plus two main offices, so typically on our project teams, people are scattered. Then plus, we have the client scattered in another, at least one more location, if not more.

Impromptu tends to be harder for the studio piece. On the critique side, whether you schedule them in or it’s impromptu, that’s totally up to you, it’s a matter of personal preference. I definitely do impromptu ones all the time, but on the Studio side, yeah, we schedule them into the kickoff. If I do feel like there’s an opportunity to do an impromptu one, I will not hesitate to take it, but it’s not a frequent occurrence on our side.

Jared: And so, the impromptu ones, is that just, “Hey, anybody want to help me look at this thing for a minute? Is that how you do critique in an impromptu setting?”

Adam: It depends on what your goals are for that critique itself. So, if it’s looking at a particular piece of functionality and you want to know how that measures up to a certain set of goals or principles, you’ve got to pick the people, or go ask the people that make the most sense to give you that feedback.

Depending on people’s subject matter expertise, that kind of stuff. You might be selective and not open it up to everybody. On the other hand, if you really don’t have that access to your subject matter experts, but you still want that feedback, you can be a little more free-form.

Go in to the person next to you and say, “There’s something not quite right about this, and I’d love another set of eyeballs. Let’s go find a room and look at this”, there’s no problem with that.

Jared: It sounds like these are just really useful skills, that when you have them and you plug them into the project, you’re going to get all this great, new perspective on what you’re building. They sound a little heavyweight, a little expensive.

Is there a lot of process that falls around these things, or is it something you can do really easily without a lot of prep or setup or getting a lot of people through seven steps that go in an exact order? Or something like that.

Aaron: The critique side, it’s the cost of a half-hour meeting, maybe. It’s cheap. Chances are, you’re going to have to have these discussions anyway with people, so this is really just providing a structure on how to have those discussions in a productive manner. On the studio side, one thing I always encourage people, if they want to do a studio, is to make sure they do have the right foundation, the right materials going in.

The key things that I think need to be in place to do a studio is basically, you have to have defined the problem in some way. You have to know who your users are.

Hopefully you’ve defined some principles, carved out what the key scenarios are, because that’s what you’re going to tackle in the studio. There’s definitely some expense and some planning to the studio, but that’s all in service of making sure that studio is as productive as possible.

You can still run a collaborative session, grab a bunch of people, throw them in a room, have them sketch, but without some of the basic structure, what are you having them sketch. What are they critiquing it against? Who are they designing it for?

All of those things really open up a lot of possibilities for things going down, not necessarily a bad path, but one that doesn’t really line up with the problem you’re trying to solve.

Jared: You guys have been doing this for a while. How did you get into this? When did you start thinking, “This is the way?” Or have you always? Is this just the way you’ve always designed? Is this something you’ve learned, or taught yourself how to do?

Aaron: A little of both. I think experience is an excellent teacher, and if anyone’s ever sat in a critique session that’s gone horribly wrong. You know for next time you don’t want to experience that again. Just thinking about how can I make that process better next time, obviously just reading, looking things up.

Seeing what other people are doing. Whether it’s their approach to critique, or the process and the structure they use in the design studio. For me it’s really been a lot of self-education and experience, and working through those things, and there were things that I thought were the right thing to do and I did them and it didn’t work.

I had to then adjust, and say, “OK, how can I change that, so this works a little better next time?” I definitely think it’s a process. There’s a lot of great resources out there, especially surrounding critique, and some decent stuff on Design Studio. I’m still looking for more. I want to compile more resources to be able to share it with others. Yeah, it comes to maybe a little bit of both. Adam?

Adam: Yeah, with critique, in particular, I actually was a film student, and critique is a huge element of learning film, or really any art curriculum. Maybe about three or four years ago, I had a really, really bad review meeting.

It wasn’t my design, but it was just…the tone of it was horrible. It kind of snapped me back to those critique sessions in school, and made me realize what was missing. That really started my focus on critique.

On the studio side, I found out that I had actually been doing things similar to Studio, for a long time. I was doing little exercises back when I worked internally at a financial services organization, and then I met Todd, Todd Warfel.

He ran me through his Studio methodology, and I was like “Oh, that’s got a little bit of this, that I’m doing over here. And a little bit of that I’m doing over there. I never really thought about putting them all together. And if I do, wow! I get this.”

That really helped take a lot of little separate ideas that I had had about the design process and pulled them all together into a really little useful process.

Jared: The studio that you guys are doing, and in particular the critique that I’m thinking about…with the critique, it seems to me that this is something that if you’ve come through an arts program.

If you were trained with a Bachelor’s or Master’s of Fine Arts, you’ve probably done this a lot in your classes. Though from what I hear, not every professor is good at it. So, there’s a lot of…

Adam: Not at all.

[laughter]

Jared: So there’s a lot of bad critique that’s done in art school. But if you’ve come through into user experience through, let’s say, the tech writing field, or you were a business analyst that just fell in love with UX.

Or you’re an engineer who came in through the engineering side, you probably never had experienced any of this critique stuff. Do you see that, you meet people who used to have done it, but they never applied it, versus people who this is completely new for them?

Adam: Oh, definitely. And that’s actually one of the big reasons why Aaron and I started doing these talks, was we realized that a significant population within the user experience community, doesn’t ever go through an education curriculum that includes critique in some way. They just kind of end up in these organizations that are already having review meetings.

They are already highly polarized with executive opinions. They don’t have this exposure. That was one of the big goals for us, in doing these talks, was to give people this exposure. To give people these tools, and this understanding of how conversations can actually be structured. How they can help facilitate this structuring.

Jared: But even for those folks who came through the arts program, but had really bad, sort of, Critiques from Hell. Understanding that in fact, there is a way to do it right. That’s a big deal. I would think.

Aaron: It is. Fortunately, that’s where a lot of art programs fall down. They put students into critique, which is great. There’s no better way to get good at critique than being involved in it. But they never go through explaining what it’s there for. Or how it should be done. The students just go through, and well this is how it happens.

But they never really understand the rationale or the framework that should be underpinning a critique, and that’s where a lot of those bad experiences really come from.

Jared: Thinking about that, the people who are going to learn how to do this. Right. The folks you guys are training. They’ve got a couple of challenges. Not only do they have to, in essence, run a critique session, potentially on something that they’re trying to get feedback and understanding of, so they’re getting their own critique.

But they have to know how to bring in people like the executives, who may have never done this before and may not understand the process, and help them understand what they’re supposed to do, so you don’t repeat that mistake that the art students have. Right?

Aaron: Yeah. That’s one of the things that, in our working through this and talking about this, and maybe using some things like setting up rules ahead of time, and preparing everyone for the session, whether it’s Studio or critique or whatever you’re going to be doing.

Setting things out, ahead of time. “Hey, here’s how we’re going to do this. Here’s the rules. Here’s the techniques we’re going to use to do them.” That way, everyone starts to get educated before they get into the process, into the moment where they’re actually starting to interact, and feedback, talk, and communicate with one another about the products. You’ve prepped them for how we’re going to do that.

You start trying to provide a structure and a framework, to keep the conversation moving in the right way, help people who maybe have never done it before. Or getting your work critiqued, per se, can be very intimidating.

Especially if you’ve had negative experiences in the past, “Oh great! I’m going to go in there. I’m going to come out. I’m going to want to go lay under my desk in the fetal position when I’m done with this, because it’s just going to be harsh, People are just going to tear apart everything I do.”

But by setting up the framework, it provides a safer environment where people know, “OK, we’re all going to be talking about this. It’s not about myself, as an individual, it’s about the product.”

The product owners know that, the executives know that. You kind of try to establish those things ahead of time going in, and then having those types of tools makes it a little easier, especially if you’ve not done it before.

Adam: The key with all of this is really repetition. You don’t want this to feel like, “OK, every time I do this, I have to train everybody on how to do this.” When you first introduce it, there will be a learning curve. But the more often you critique, the more often you hold discussions this way, the more it just becomes a part of how you work, and how you talk and how you think.

By doing this over and over again, with your team, it does that for them as well. I’ve had executives that just fall into that format of discussions after we’ve been on the project for a while.

They start to immediately when they bring something up, they pull up which goal it is they’re talking about and referring to. And that’s great. That’s one of the reasons we call this thing Discussing Design, is because yes, you can have a critique. But this is really just the way you should be talking about design in general.

Aaron: Yeah, excellent point. I like that.

Jared: This sounds like it opens up a whole world for folks, because it really does move you away from the discussion of color and fonts and personal opinion and all those things and really gets into the, “What are we trying to do here, what are we trying to accomplish, and what are the best ways to actually do that for the people we’re trying to build this for?”

I’m really excited about learning how to do this better. I’m really looking forward to the workshop that you guys are going to be teaching, because it really sounds like these are great skills that everybody can learn and take advantage of.

Adam: Yeah. And they’re not just skills for designers. They’re skills for anybody who’s going to be working on a collaborative team. The majority of projects out there, it’s very seldom that there’s one person who is simultaneously the designer, the project manager, the developer, the visual designer, the marketer, the executive.

There’s almost always a team behind this. And so these are pretty good skills for anybody on that team.

Jared: How cool would it be if we saw developers and marketing folks get up and actually putting their work up and saying, “OK, I need some critique on this. Help me. Here’s what I’m trying to do with it, here’s the goal, and here’s what I’ve done so far,” and they actually get feedback?

Aaron: I’d love that. That’d be perfect.

Adam: Actually, someone on Twitter reached out to me today and asked for that very thing, like, “How would I do this? We’re not necessarily a design team. We’re developers. But we want to start having better conversations about design and experience for what we’re building.” There is an interest.

Jared: I think there is, I think there is.

Aaron: Yeah, everyone’s contributing to the building of a product, so this could be valuable for everyone. The main thing I’ve seen, too, is that people come away, say they come to our session at this conference, or in the times we’ve given it in the past.

They go back to work following the conference, and they have something they can apply right away. They can instantly start improving the conversation about design, even if it’s just within their design team. But it’s something that they can go back.

And they don’t have to have a special technology. They can just go start doing it and dive in and start trying to move it and improve that discussion.

Adam: Not to get all philosophical, but one of the things that Aaron and I say is that critique is a life skill. It’s not a design skill. Any time you want to improve at something, whether it’s something you’re creating or something you’re doing, playing a sport, being a better home cook, critique is a tool you have at your disposal to get better at it.

Jared: Oh, man, that’s deep.

[laughter]

Jared: Cool. This is awesome. So, November 5-7 at the User Interface 17 conference in Boston, Massachusetts. On the 5th, the Monday, the first day, the two of you, you’re going to be running a session, a full-day workshop, called “Leading Design Studios and Collaborative Critiques.”

It is something I’m really looking forward to. I think people are going to be just chomping at the bit to get into this session, because it sounds so cool. I’m really looking forward to it. Thank you, guys.

Aaron: Thank you.

Adam: Oh, thank you. Good times.

Jared: OK. Once again, I want to thank our audience for listening in, and as always, thank you for encouraging our behavior. We’ll catch you next time. Take care.

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